Ephesians - Lesson 4

By Curt Niccum

The Rebuilding of the Temple. Ephesians 2:11-22


  1. The student can identify some of the Temple imagery employed by Paul. This would include:
    1. being "brought near" (2:13)
    2. "by the blood" (2:13)
    3. the "dividing barrier" (2:14)
    4. having "access" (2:18)
    5. and "holy temple" (2:21).
  2. The student can describe the general architecture of the Herodian Temple and its importance for Ephesians 2.
  3. The student can list barriers accidentally and intentionally erected by some Christians today.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.
  2. Blackboard with chalk or an overhead projector with a blank transparency and pen(optional).
  3. Distribute handouts providing the layout for the Herodian Temple or provide some other means of visually representing the structure. (A good resource is http://faculty.musowls.org/DentE/New%20Testament/Temple%20Diagram.htm)


The church is the Holy of Holies, the place of God's presence on earth, and Christ destroyed every obstacle to salvation by His death on the cross.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review last week's lesson.
    1. Have the class as a whole (or call upon individuals to) recite Ephesians 2:4-6 from memory.
    2. Q: What two things are significant about the three main verbs in those verses? A: They all have a prepositional prefix indicating that these actions occur only "with Christ" and all are in the past tense indicating the reality of what God has already accomplished for us.
  4. Introduce this week's lesson. (This will require some time. The teacher is encouraged to find creative ways to portray the arrangement of the Temple in the first century. Understanding the architecture of the Herodian Temple is crucial not only for interpreting Ephesians 2:11-22, but also the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and Paul's arrest for supposedly bringing Trophimus, a Gentile Christian from Ephesus, into the Temple [Acts 21].)
    1. Whereas Paul addressed the topic of power in 2:1-10, he next turns to the issue of placement in 2:11-22. He wishes to show that the Gentile believers have full participation in God's people. (This was always the case, but many Jews opted to view their position exclusively, with Jonah perhaps being the most notable example. They restricted citizenship in the kingdom to those physically descended from Abraham.)
    2. The primary locale of this "division" or "distinction" between Jew and Gentile was the Jerusalem Temple. Thus, Paul focuses on the architecture and the rituals of that Temple to underscore the full inclusion of believing Gentiles into the people of God.
    3. To understand this passage, students need to be familiar with the layout of the Herodian Temple. (See http://faculty.musowls.org/DentE/New%20Testament/Temple%20Diagram.htm for useful examples.)
      1. In 20 B.C., Herod the Great, in an attempt to endear the Jewish people to himself, began a magnificent reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Although almost complete, construction continued during the lifetime of Jesus. Herod greatly expanded the Temple precincts and created an engineering and architectural marvel. He used white marble stones, some larger than those used to build the pyramids, polished to a bright sheen, for the foundation and the structures of the edifice. Although the Jews had little appreciation for Herod, many believed that this building fulfilled the biblical promise of a Temple that would last forever. Who could destroy such an amazing structure?
      2. The Herodian Temple continued to mirror the plan of the Mosaic tabernacle and the Solomonic Temple. There were, however, some alterations.
        1. The most sacred place in the Temple was the Holy of Holies (which is just a Hebrew way of saying "the most holy"). The High Priest alone could enter this room, and this only once a year on the Day of Atonement. To ensure its holiness, in the Herodian Temple the high priest was lowered in a container from above. This prevented unsolicited access by priests and foreigners alike.
          1. After the defiling of the Temple by the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 165 B.C. and the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C., as well as some other incidents,the Jews took great precautions to keep outsiders from entering sacred areas, especially the Holy of Holies.
          2. One might compare this to some Christian architecture. For example, in many church buildings the location of the baptistery would be somewhat analogous to the placement of the Holy of Holies. In the following points, associations with modern architecture will also be provided in brackets.
        2. Outside of the Holy of Holies was the Holy Place where the priests conducted their daily rituals and offered sacrifices. [In many church buildings, this location would be the dais or "stage" area where the pulpit stands.]
        3. Before the Holy Place stood the Court of Israelites. All healthyJewish males could enter this arena. [This would be similar to the auditorium or "sanctuary" in many church structures.]
        4. The women had their own court just outside the men's area. Only healthy Jewish females could enter the Court of Women. [This would be equivalent to the foyer.]
        5. High and thick walls surrounded the four areas listed above. These constituted the Temple proper. The largest court, though, lay outside these walls. Here one found the Court of the Gentiles. [The parking lot and any nearby street would be analogous.]
        6. The Court of the Gentiles was the designated area where non-Jews could worship the One God. One might be tempted to view this positively since the Gentiles garnered the largest section of theTemple precincts. One might assume this expansion indicated a welcome reception of all peoples so that "my house will be called ahouse of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:1-8). A number of things unfortunately suggest the opposite.
          1. First, all worship and rituals took place behind walls that obscured all vision and most sound to those worshipping in the Court of the Gentiles.
          2. Second, the city of Jerusalem had expanded around three fourths of the Temple. The Jewish leadership in response to urban needs allocated part of the Court of the Gentiles to be a road.
          3. Third, Jewish males from around the Roman Empire were to worship in Jerusalem three times a year. Many worshippers preferred not to drag a bull or a goat hundreds of miles. As a result, the Jewish leadership sectioned off a portion of the Court of the Gentiles for merchants to sell sacrificial animals and to exchange money.
          4. Fourth, the Jewish leadership relegated all unhealthy Jews to the Court of the Gentiles. (Jews in the first century equated physical infirmity with spiritual disease.)
          5. Finally, if trying to avoid traffic, salesmen, animal droppings, and sick Jews were not enough, Herod had constructed a three foot high barrier between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of Women on which placards announced at regular intervals that any Gentile who crossed the barrier would be killed.
          6. Q: How would that type of worship environment affect you?
          7. It is behind that backdrop that Paul writes Ephesians 2:11-22.

Learning Experience:

  1. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 out loud to the class. Ask the class to listen for words or phrases that might be related to the Temple as described above and to the rites and practices associated with Temple worship according to the Old Testament. (The following subpoints may come out in the students' answers. Those not identified should be addressed by the teacher. It may be useful for the teacher to make a list on a blackboard or an overhead.)
    1. Circumcision (verse 11): although not necessarily related to the Temple, only the circumcised could enter beyond the Court of Women and this ritual served as a distinguishing mark that separated Jews from all others.
    2. Brought near (verse 13): This phrase typically referred to the offering of a sacrifice to God.
    3. By the blood (verse 13): This phrase, too, refers to Old Testament sacrifice, indicating forgiveness and/or purification.
    4. Barrier of the dividing wall (verse 14): This signifies the barricade that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Women which contained warnings of death to Gentile trespassers.
    5. The Law (verse 15): This, like circumcision, does not pertain directly to theTemple but still served to separate Jew from Gentile. The Law of Moses was given specifically to the Jews. Christ removes the Law as an obstacle to universal salvation.
    6. Access (verse 18): This word served as a technical term for the entrance of the High Priest once a year into the Holy of Holies. What one priest could do solely on the Day of Atonement, Christians do all the time.
    7. Holy temple (verse 21): The Greek has two words for Temple. One indicates the general precincts of the Temple. The other, the one used here, specifies the area where deity resides. For the Jewish Temple, this would be the Holy ofHolies. Thus, Jewish and Greek Christians have constant access to the Father because the church itself is the Holy of Holies!
  2. Q: Why does Paul use all of this Temple imagery?
    1. The temple, in both Judaism and pagan religions represented the place where humans and deity could interact and communicate. (Remember that the Temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was located in Ephesus.) Paul writes to emphasize the importance of the church as the true place where God dwells.
    2. The Jerusalem Temple would have been well known by the Gentile Ephesians. (More about that in the next lesson.) It stood as a constant reminder of the supposed exclusion of Gentiles from God. (They were"without hope and without God [Greek = 'atheists'] " 2:12.)
    3. Q: What, then, is Paul saying to the Gentile Christians in Ephesus about their placement in the Kingdom with these verses? A: Through Christ all believers have been raised into the true Temple where divisions no longer exist. (You may want to read Isaiah 56:1-8 for one of the Old Testament prophecies the early Christians applied to this situation.)


  1. When the church began, racism threatened to tear it apart. Even among the Jews in Jerusalem some made distinctions between those who spoke Aramaic and those who spoke Greek (Acts 6).
  2. The eventual inclusion of the Gentiles only exacerbated the problem. Jewish hatred for Gentiles as well as the longstanding anti-Semitism among non-Jews made a unified church difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. The area wide meeting recorded in Acts 15 by no means solved the problem as subsequent history proved.
  3. This remains an issue today, although not typically drawn along Jewish-Gentile lines. Martin Luther King, Jr.s', dictum that 10:00 am on Sunday is the most segregated time in the U.S. still resonates in post-"Civil Rights" America. Racism also continues to be a problem for the church elsewhere around the world.
  4. Race, however, is not the only barrier Christians erect today. Q: What other issues divide the church today? (This should not focus on internal arguments over doctrinal issues but the external influences of a divided society on the church.) A: We segregate by age (most Sunday school and youth programs for example). We introduce limitations by gender. We show disdain for the poor (most often by enforcing dress codes for leading in worship or even participation in worship). Sometimes political affiliation becomes an issue where Christians draw lines of fellowship.
  5. Perhaps most churches have not gone so far as the Jewish leadership did with the Temple. Thankfully, very few churches have signs informing guests that they are not wanted. (Although, I have a friend who took a number of students on a wilderness trek and on their way home on a Sunday stopped at a congregation to worship. The elders forced the entire group to stay in the foyer since they were not dressed "appropriately" for worship.) Still, unintentionally many church buildings in effect have banners at their entrances and in their auditoriums that say "You are not welcome here!" If we sing "The Gospel is for All," we should live it out in daily practice. Christ destroyed all manmade barriers on the cross.
  6. Close with a discussion of how the Bible class might appear to outsiders.
    1. How would someone from a different ethnic background feel in class? What about someone extremely poor or a millionaire? What about somebody who does not know the Bible well?
    2. Have the students make suggestions as to how the class or church could become open to all. Make sure people take on the tasks identified and aim for incorporating any changes within the next week or two.


  1. Implement changes to the Bible class if any were noted during today's lesson.
  2. Challenge the students to reflect on the barriers they have raised that have excluded or marginalized others and to work on destroying one of them in the next week.
  3. Ask the students to find out what they can about Trophimus before the next class session (Acts 21).

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